Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara look at the original Balfour Declaration with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Lord Balfour and Lord Rothschild.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
British Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected Palestinian calls for her country to rescind the Balfour Declaration, which recognized the right of the Jewish people to have a state in their historic homeland.
“When some people suggest we should apologize for this letter, I say absolutely not,” May said Thursday night at a special closed gala to mark 100 years since then British foreign secretary Alfred James Balfour issued the 67-word document.
Although Israel and Great Britain have been at odds lately over some central issues including the Iran deal and Israeli settlements, May delivered a very strong speech in support of the Jewish state and the role her country had in creating it.
“The idea of establishing a homeland for the Jewish people [in 1917] would have seemed a distant dream for many and been fiercely opposed by others.
“Yet, it was at this very moment that Lord Balfour had the vision and the leadership to make this profound statement about restoring a persecuted people to a safe and secure homeland,” May said.PM Netanyahu and British PM May at Balfour Declaration Centenary Event (YouTube / IsraeliPM)
She noted the controversy that has surrounded this anniversary, including in her country, where a demonstration against the document was held in London on Saturday.
In recognizing the importance of giving the Jewish people a homeland, Balfour did not ignore the rights of others who lived that region, she said.
“Balfour wrote explicitly that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country,’” she said.
But his full vision was not fulfilled when the Jewish state was created in 1948, May added.
This includes “the Jews forced out of their homes in Arab countries in 1948” and “the suffering of Palestinians affected and dislodged by Israel’s birth.”
Both events were “completely contrary to the intention of Balfour to safeguard all of these communities,” she said.
“Balfour had a vision of coexistence that has yet to fulfilled,” she added.
In the spirit of his document, May continued, there must be a renewed commitment to create a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To achieve the goal, Israel must halt settlement activity and the Palestinians must cease their incitement against Israel.
“There can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions; they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them,” May said, and issued a stinging condemnation of anti-Zionism as a new form of antisemitism.
“Today, [there is] a new and pernicious form of antisemitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist,” May said, adding that calls to abolish the state of Israel should not be tolerated.
“This is abhorrent and we will not stand for it,” she said.
“Criticizing the actions of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for questioning Israel’s right to exist, any more than criticizing the actions of Britain could be an excuse for questioning our right to exist.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in London for the Balfour commemorations and spoke at the gala, thanked May for “keeping Britain on the right side of history.”
The Palestinians, he said, speak of the document as a tragedy, “But the real tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it took three decades to fulfill its promise – too late for one-third of the Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust.”
Had the state been created in 1928 or 1938, millions of Jews could have been saved.
“It’s time for the Palestinians to end their quest to eliminate Israel. It’s time for them not just to accept a Jewish national home. It’s time for them to accept, finally, a Jewish state, a nation-state for the Jewish people because, if they do, the conflict will be over in a minute,” he said.
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